Cooley Seeks Third Term as District Attorney

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Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley is up for re-election. He faces two little-known and under-funded opponents, and he's expected to easily win re-election tomorrow. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports on a D.A. that law enforcement loves.

Frank Stoltze: Retired LAPD Detective Jimmy Trahin trained Steve Cooley as a reserve police officer in the early 1970s.

Jimmy Trahin: First thing I noticed about Steve is that he was one of these gung ho types. He just couldn't wait to get out there and pick up bad guys. We'd stop and jack 'em up, and they were scared of us. And they were scared of Steve.

Stoltze: Trahin recalls one backyard encounter with three robbery suspects.

Trahin: It was an all knock out brawl. And it ended up, other officers came in and Steve backed off, and then he came back in with his baton, and he was doing his number to try to keep these people down, and he ended up hitting half of the other cops that were there with his baton, and we all end up getting medical treatment after that.

Stoltze: Steve Cooley remembers it was a chaotic scene, but says he never pulled his baton. Fighting laryngitis, he recalls that it was one of only just two fights during his six years as a reserve cop.

Steve Cooley: It's not a pretty world out there and I think that the public is probably pretty pleased that their DA, in his youth back in the early '70s, was willing to go out there and put on a uniform and risk his life to protect and serve them.

Stoltze: Steve Cooley boasts a 95%-plus prosecution rate as district attorney. Critics contend he's less aggressive when it comes to cops. The Los Angeles Times reports he's filed criminal charges in 4% of police misconduct cases the LAPD's referred to him, half the rate of his predecessor. Cooley brushes off the number.

Cooley: I'm proud of the fact that we don't overreact to public pressure to bring charges when they aren't warranted.

Announcer: A little more quiet, please?

Stoltze: Law enforcement leaders fete Cooley at the Los Angeles Police Academy. LAPD Chief Bill Bratton is among them.

Bill Bratton: In the six years that I can speak to, I've had an extraordinary relationship as chief of police with this district attorney and his office.

Stoltze: Many defense attorneys also praise Cooley, who employs the state's three-strikes law only in cases involving serious or violent crimes. Cooley's opponents include attorney Albert Robles, who sits on the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and hasn't raised any campaign money. His other opponent is Deputy District Attorney Steven Ipsen, who's raised just $30,000. Ipsen says Cooley hasn't been aggressive enough against gang members who are illegal immigrants.

Steven Ipsen: He's presided over the infiltration and the establishment of an al-Qaeda like network of drug trafficking and other gang criminality in Los Angeles by Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs.

Cooley: Well, it's flatly not true.

Stoltze: Cooley says he's teamed with federal prosecutors on the issue.

Cooley: I've been very aggressive working with the U.S. Attorney. This program targets international and transnational gang members. And they are now not just being deported, they are going to federal prison for re-entering our country, and it's going to have a dramatic impact on gang crime in Los Angeles County.

Stoltze: Sixty-one-year-old Cooley says he'd focus on training in a third term. He wants law enforcement better versed in DNA collection and financial crimes. His old police buddies like the idea of another term. Former LAPD Commander Keith Bushy was an undercover officer monitoring student groups at Cal State L.A. in the late 1960s when he first saw Cooley in action.

Keith Bushy: They were going to pull down the American flag, and this young student body president Steve Cooley went and stood between them and that flag pole. And ultimately they left, and I thought to myself, this kid's got the right stuff.

Cooley: Well there were some pretty radical people going to college in the mid to late '60s. I do recall confronting them and standing in their way so they wouldn't be able to trash our flag. That's the kind of guy I was way back then.

Stoltze: Cooley says he's still that kind of guy now.